like a rhinestone cowboy.

"You walk on through the dark, because that's where the next morning is."

SPOILER ALERT.

Bruce Springsteen has spent the better part of the last decade intently focused on his legacy, on what he will be remembered for, what he will leave behind. The River tour with its record-breaking shows at the end, the autobiography and the author events, Springsteen On Broadway and now, the cinematic presentation of Western Stars — which also happens to be Springsteen’s directorial debut.

This isn’t a vanity project. It is, like the album, vast and expansive. The images are sharp and beautiful, and the lighting captures that special aura you only see in the desert, which you will know if you have spent any time there and you will find lovely even if you haven’t. The performance is as lush as the record, with just enough space and room so the songs can breathe, and as Bruce astutely notes later in the film, the music takes on a life of its own.

Bruce runs through the album in order, with narration between each song, which begins by him setting out his thesis, that the record was about the struggle between individual freedom and communal life. (Disclaimer that these are paraphrases; it’s hard to take notes during a movie.) Bruce and Patti down shots of what looks like tequila; they clink glasses, and the party begins. There’s a concertmaster, but Bruce is still leading the band with the movements and gestures we’re all familiar with, even when it’s a 30-piece orchestra.

The commentary is filmed outside of the context of the performance and those vignettes — which contain original and archival footage, some of which comes from the vast Springsteen archives — connect with each other visually and transform into an intentional subtext. Given that Bruce was not interested in talking about the record and decided to not tour the record, this is as much as we’re likely ever going to hear about this group of songs. He is, as ever, deliberate in his storytelling; you can feel the careful emphasis behind the narration, wanting to make sure his meaning is clear.

I chose the above screengrab for this piece because it is the thing I would be the most envious to be in the same room as, much less get to look through. And it’s also because throughout much of the film, Bruce speaks about his songs from the perspective of the songwriter, talking about characters and metaphors and devices, at one point referencing “my men in this song.” In a familiar fashion, he mentions somewhat self-deprecatingly that he is now writing about cars for his 19th album, and declares that cars are no longer a metaphor for freedom, but for movement.

If you liked Western Stars, you will love every minute of this film; it was an ecstatic, overwhelming experience for me, getting to hear the vocals sung live, watching Bruce reach for and hit those overwhelming notes: the record, after all, is a shameless assemblage of the best qualities of the American pop songbook — to which Bruce pays tribute in the film’s encore. (That’s a subtle spoiler.) Getting to hear “There Goes My Miracle” was as heart-stopping as you imagined it would be; the most successful ones were the songs that stretched some kind of muscle for Springsteen. There is an ease in his delivery that is like watching old footage of soul singers. He is paying homage, and he is having fun with it.

There are some familiar faces among the backing musicians and some unfamiliar ones as well, but it’s a crackerjack group of performers. It is decidedly not the E Street Band, but it is both enjoyable and fascinating to see Springsteen in a new context, and how he interacts with a different group of collaborators. The fact that, at the age of almost-70, he is still interested in alternate ways of making art is the most enormous gift.

I am so sorry he did not want to tour this record, because being in the room with these songs and this sound would have been overwhelming. But, at least we have this film to give us some idea of what it would be like. Just please, keep it coming: more explorations of different directions; more writing; more music.

Happy early 70th birthday, Boss.

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Long Live Rock

Down at the Astoria / the scene was changing.

When I was 15, I thought I liked the Who, and then I saw The Kids Are Alright, in the theater, during the initial theatrical release, and then I realized that I actually didn’t know anything about them. I resolved by the film’s end, my heart beating outside of my chest during that final scene shot at Shepperton, the first time hearing that initial pulse, like a heartbeat in the dark, 1, 2, 3, and then the explosion that is the intro to “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”  It was one of those moments where your life changes forever. I would never be the same. I had to learn everything, I needed to hear everything, I needed to know everything. And so, a lifetime of Who fandom began. 

There’s a sticky note on my computer in the place I log story ideas that says “TKAA is the perfect documentary.” It’s the perfect documentary to me because it doesn’t stop to explain anything. Jeff Stein just assumes if you’re there, you know, and he doesn’t much care if you don’t, it’s on you to figure it out. That describes how I feel about being a Who fan from the age of 15; there were these people in the world who liked Who’s Next and could name a handful of songs and would probably claim they were Who fans, and then there were the rest of us, who read every word Pete ever wrote or said and fought bitterly with our parents when we couldn’t understand WHY we couldn’t have our dad’s Army parka so we could scrawl a Who logo on the back, just like Jimmy in Quadrophenia.  (They sell these now on thewho.com.)  I collected every possible note of music that existed -- I paid $50 for one of the Meher Baba albums with my freaking babysitting money when I was 16; I own every single one of John Entswistle’s solo albums.

This isn’t markedly different with other artists or bands, but where I think the Who are different is the outer facade of aggro and sturm und drang vs the grand attempts at something where Pete just fell on his face because he reached too far, tried too hard, but put it out ANYWAY, staged the tour anyway, brought the lasers anyway, went on the road with a horn section -- the imperfections were the things that the diehards leaned into and embraced. The intra-band squabbles. The poseurs just didn’t get it.

I last saw our boys on that 2002 tour where we lost Entwistle (TOWNSHEND WITH AN H, ENTWISTLE WITHOUT) and I wasn’t even going to that tour -- lawn seats were, like, $86, and not that I would have sat on the lawn, it was just so much money I couldn’t do it, but once John passed someone on Odds & Sods found me a ticket and instead of just picking people up at the airport I picked people up at the airport and drove them to the Gorge. I wound up in the front row. Roger gave me a piece of his tambourine because I was standing in front of Pino Palladino, my face a waterfall. I said my goodbyes. It wasn’t so much that I was done but that I needed more than Roger finding the perfect setlist and sticking with it forever. As much as I would complain about having to pretend to like something like Bridges to Babylon and I was almost grateful when the Stones stopped making us pretend we were interested in the new record, I thought Pete had more music in him if he would just, I dunno, let it out

But at some point this summer I woke up one Saturday morning and by the end of the day had bought a ticket to see the Stones at MetLife and while poking around Ticketmaster, came up with the right mix of price and location to see the Who at the Garden. It was the Garden, not some awful outdoor venue. It was where things started for me, I might as well see the lads off.

So Sunday night, there I was, riding up the escalators one more time. I took my seat, “just over Bobby Pridden’s shoulder,” as I texted a friend, and once again familiarized myself with being in the general vicinity of dude Who fans who think they own this band. (I was pleased that there were two women near me in my row who were very, very clearly there for themselves and not there as seat-warmers.) I was looking forward to the show, but I had zero expectations, honestly. I mean, it was a Who show. It would be fun to see the guys again. I kind of knew there would be an orchestra; I thought, “It will be great to hear some of the Quadrophenia songs with horns.”

You have never seen someone so excited for the french horns to kick in during the “Overture” from Tommy. It wasn’t just “oh there are french horns and they are sitting six feet from me,” but rather that I knew exactly when the french horns would kick in (as did many people in the Garden, judging by the amount of amateur conductors waving their hands around). I am not a Tommy die hard by any means, but by the end of the first six songs of the set, going through “Amazing Journey” and “Sparks” and “Listening To You” with the full orchestral backing was a surreal, almost hallucinatory experience. It was huge and immersive and connected straight back to teenage Caryn sitting on the floor of her purple room on her purple carpet, headphones on, listening to the album with complete and total intensity and concentration. It felt like I was floating three feet off the ground.  I cursed myself for bothering with eyeliner, it was gone within moments. 

Roger’s voice was in decent shape; far better than it was on that solo outing in 2009 (which I wish I’d seen in a better venue than whatever that theater in Times Square is called these days). Pete’s voice, however, was not, and I wish someone had considered that when putting the setlist together. At one point he called for a throat lozenge or something similar, causing whoever was minding his guitars (RIP Alan Rogan) to go into a panic and start rooting through every drawer of his equipment bench (really, the sidestage seats at the Garden are an underrated treasure) while holding the guitar Pete needed for the next number, and not seeing Pete waving at him to stop it and just bring the guitar out already

At one point I tweeted that the sound problems were starting to feel like the beginning of the 1974 Quadrophenia tour, a tour I feel the need to point out that I was not old enough to see or have experienced in anything like real time (I was TEN), but it’s just the kind of obnoxious thing that I would say to the general public and not care if they didn’t know what it meant. The people I was saying it for knew EXACTLY what I meant, just like telling Marisa I was sitting over Bobby Pridden’s shoulder and knowing she would be able to find me, just like the super obnoxious thing I used to do with friends walking into Who shows, where we would chant WE ARE THE MODS, WE ARE THE MODS, WE ARE, WE ARE, WE ARE THE MODS. We knew we were being obnoxious; we also did not fucking care.

“This is a song off of The Who By Numbers,” Roger shared. “HOWEVER MUCH I BOOZE,” yelled our section’s particular dickhead. I would tell you exactly what Roger said but the sound in our section was point blank terrible: you don’t sell sidestage seats and then not hang a speaker column in that direction. (Although on the way out I heard a young man complain how “The Real Me” has one of the best bass lines in the history of rock and you couldn’t hear it; he might have been sitting near me or the sound might just have been fucking awful.) “Imagine A Man,” coming in right after the TV segment of “Who Are You” and “Eminence Front,” both of which had significant technical difficulties -- Roger constantly taking his in-ear monitors out all night -- turned into the song at which half the Garden decided to go get a beer or hit the rest room. “Imagine A Man” goes into … a new song, which is exactly where you want to put a brand new song and if you are Pete Townshend, you’re going to preface it with a lengthy introduction and then tell us the person you’re dedicating to/wrote it with died this morning. 

“This song is from nineteen sixty FUCKING six,” Mr. Peter Townshend snarled into the microphone before “Substitute,” during the non-orchestral interlude of the show. Roger had just held forth about being old, and about their voices not being exactly what they used to be. And, like, there is something just so… WHOVIAN about that whole thing, about how they’re out on what has to be, what, the fourth or fifth FAREWELL TOUR, and there was definitely a way to do that without taking out a full orchestra -- it’s a FULL ORCHESTRA. There are fucking TYMPANI -- they are not going out gracefully. They are not going out without a fight. 

I am so sorry I did not go see them at Wembley. 

Also very Who-like was the trainwreck segue from “The Seeker” into “You Better You Bet” which I know I can hold Roger Daltrey PERSONALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR, because for some fucking reason he LIKES YBYB. I look at the people in the crowd who are legitimately dancing around and think, there is no way you all bought a copy of Face Dances. (Which was my first real-time Who album, but you know, better than it being It’s Hard [the funny thing about that record is that it literally came out like two days before that tour started so none of us had actually heard the songs yet. So Who!]). 

“A new song is next, and if you all sit down because it’s a new song, I will stop the show,” complains Peter Dennis Blandford Townshend, and then he backpedals a little bit, but then tells us there is new material and it is coming out in November, and of course he would write new material that would come out for the holidays but not tour behind it.  This takes us into the Quadrophenia segment of the show -- Horns! HORNS ON 5:15! -- and no, we can’t hear the bass on “5:15,” but this is where Pete decides we need the traditional jam session in the middle of the song. It was clear that he was frustrated by all the technical difficulties and wanted to try to solo his way out of it but what this show did not need was an interval of noodling, mate.

Pete blanks out on the lyrics to “I’m One,” Simon trying to help him without losing pace but no, Pete needs to make sure we know he doesn’t remember the words -- I am literally sitting back in my seat cackling. Yes, I would have liked a lovely straight version of this song, but also, honestly, the Quad songs and their teenage hormonal angst have aged the least well, I think. “Drowned” fares a little better, and then it’s time for “The Rock,” the most successful of Pete’s symphonic attempts, I think, because it is supposed to be the rain and the sea and the rock and thunder and wind, there’s an outboard motor in there too, it’s reprising the four themes of the title, it is, truly, denouement. All I could think was, you beautiful genius, constantly trying for that which is always beyond your grasp. You do it anyway, and give it to us anyway, and try it again.

Roger raises both arms above his head, and a fellow a few seats over breathes, almost subconsciously: “This is it.” Because we all know what is next, no one needs to tell us what is next, and again, if you don’t know what is next, well, too bad; you’ll miss it. “Love Reign O’er Me” is always about catharsis and redemption, it’s inescapable, and it is the decades of our love for this band and this music, and it is holding our breath for whether or not Roger can hit that last scream; he steps back, he drinks water, he spits it out in a cloud of golden droplets in the spotlight and then he wraps his voice around that final chorus, he steps into that beautiful, dramatic exhortation with everything he has, and the crowd explodes out of sheer joy and gratitude.

We cheered them off that stage at the end with everything we had, despite the fuckups, despite the bum notes, despite the missed lyrics, because of all of it. They will get better; they will work out the glitches; but those shows will not be the last time at Madison Square Garden, because there is no place like Madison Square Garden and nothing like a MSG Who audience. It was everything, and there will never be anything like it again.

[newsletter] we are stardust.

TRAFFIC UPTIGHT AT HIPPIE FEST

To get to Bethel, New York, site of the Woodstock Festival, is 2 hours’ drive from the actual village of Woodstock. I went there for the first time in 2018, when I finally decided I needed to see a show at Levon Helm’s barn, so I was in the general area, and unless you are camping or hiking you are not going to be passing in any kind of proximity. There are essentially two routes to Bethel from Woodstock, one over a mountain, another slightly more direct and populated. I decided to go over the mountain.

When I arrived, my first thought was “Wow,” followed closely by: my word, this is a phenomenally stupid place to have held a music festival as it is not close to utterly anything. The drive was lengthy and complicated in 2018, in a modern car with creature comforts; I cannot imagine slogging up there in a VW Bug or some old beater. The audience members who arrived on Thursday afternoon were utter geniuses.

The location is now the Bethel Center for the Arts, an outdoor amphitheater commonly known in music business parlance as “a shed.” Thankfully, all of that infrastructure is at the top of the hill (those white tents at the top of the photo there), leaving a semblance of the actual performance bowl in situ.

The site is open to the public when there are no concerts and you can park and get out of your car and just… walk around the field. There is a museum as part of the entertainment complex, which I avoided as just standing in the field at the top of the hill trying to have a moment meant I had to listen to 45 minutes of Dudes Explaining Woodstock, and did not want to repeat that at close quarters. However, it is worthwhile going down to the lower level where a hallway is lined with descriptions of each act that performed, including their set times — which now need to be corrected as the result of the recent box set, but at the time was revelatory to me, because, as we now understand, the movie and the album did not give you an accurate picture.

While the actual natural amphitheater on Max Yasgur’s farm has been regraded, you can still very much place yourself within the landscape. If you look at aerial photographs of the day, and compare it to a Google Earth view (you know, the kind of thing normal people do every day), the shapes of trees and forests and fields and lakes are remarkably unchanged, and would not be unfamiliar to someone who was there on that August weekend in 1969. It’s one of the few major rock and roll landmarks that you can say that about; it’s not a parking lot or an office building or an empty field full of rubble. And I know that people wish that the site wasn’t owned by a commercial concern but I don’t know how you can be unhappy that music still happens in the same spot. It’s better than it being turned into a subdivision full of cookie-cutter houses or a strip mall or a big box store. 

If you happen to be in the area or nearby and it’s a show day, you can still go to what I think is the best part of the land, which is a corner of the field where the first marker currently resides. It is actually on what was festival land, and has a couple of benches to sit on and a picnic table and some shade trees, and if there isn’t a concert, there’s a gate that’s open to let you walk further out onto the field. But if the gate is locked, you still have the opportunity to stand on the field where the actual Woodstock festival happened. Take your shoes off and wiggle your toes in the clover. This is a place where something took place that changed the energy on the planet. You don’t have to be a hippie to find that profound and remarkable. 


As a teenager, I was utterly fascinated by Woodstock. Part of it was the music, part of it was the history, but the major factor for me was the idea of being in the same space with people who thought and felt and looked like me, that had the same unpopular views of the world or ideas that I did. I was not a hippie, although my high school was filled with plenty of aspiring Deadheads. I did not understand or like the Grateful Dead, and just being in the same space as someone smoking a joint would give me an instant sinus headache. I was, quite frankly, terrified of drugs as a teen because I knew I needed to get the fuck out of Dodge, and did not want anything or anyone potentially interfering with my ability to do so. This was one of many aspects that made me dreadfully unpopular, but I was physically unable to even pretend to conform. I am not upset about this — it was fairly smart for someone who was young and dumb — but it did make my teenage years miserable.

When I did get to go to concerts, or hang out in record stores, suddenly, I fit in. Even something like a midnight movie—usually showing Woodstock, or Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii—those were the places where you realized that you were not the only person like that, you were not weird, you were not alone. Which was, of course, what Woodstock meant, and means, and stood for. You weren’t the only person in the world who thought the war in Vietnam was wrong or liked loud music that wasn’t pop, or believed that women had potential beyond being a wife and mother. There were kids at Woodstock who were the only freak in their school or town, and something made them think they should get in their cars or take a bus and drive to upstate New York. 500,000 of those people made it; thousands of others got stuck or turned around or stopped where they couldn’t go any further. But that desire to connect, that physical act of showing up, proved that while they might be isolated, they weren’t alone, that there were plenty more people just like them out there. 

It’s a good reason to drive four hours to stand barefoot in a field 49 years later.

And also a good reason, was to be able to do THIS. It still makes me chortle with absolute glee.


more woodstock: pitchfork box set review | notebook dump

I went to Asbury Park to cover the Blinded By the Light red carpet, even though I am not a red carpet sort of person, and then this happened:

There is more coverage of the evening over on Backstreets (ctrl+F for LUTON), and I’ll have an actual film review coming out on Friday for Pitchfork.

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[newsletter] Back To The Garden

Will the snake people please meet Peggy at the Information Booth

[unintentional LOL at the overlay]

Because I like to set these massive challenges for myself, back in early June, I proposed to write a review of the massive, 38-CD complete box set from the Woodstock Festival in 1969. The box set is ‘out’ today and my review was published this morning, and since I’m fielding a bunch of questions on Twitter and I could have easily written 20,000 words on the box set, I thought what we generally call a “notebook dump” might be interesting.

I assume if you are reading this you will have read the above-linked article because otherwise nothing here will make any sense.

joan baez was PREGNANT and went on at 3am AND yelled at people to sit down (also who are these people standing up for joan baez at 3am)

it’s one thing to get up on that stage in front of half a million people with a full band behind you, but it takes some kind of insane moxie to do that with JUST AN ACOUSTIC GUITAR.

(I believe that comment referred to Melanie’s impromptu set.)

it’s a free concert from now on was a conversation that took place at approximately 1:40am, and not in the middle of the afternoon as you might have thought

On Sweetwater, who were on second, right after Richie Havens, who went on first because everyone else was stuck in traffic:

FLUTE SOLOS! CONGA SOLOS!

45 minutes of a “theatrical jazz-rock” because they were signed to promoter Michael Lang’s Woodstock Ventures! (But their closing number, “Waiting For You,” straight up bangs...at least until it gets extended out to 12 minutes long with multiple cowbell interludes)

“Will those of you who have taken up residence on the towers,” Chip Monck takes up the torch from John Morris just before Country Joe’s Saturday set. “No, not up, down.” 

If you know anything about Country Joe McDonald, you probably know that he got 500,00 people to yell “FUCK!” at Woodstock. But the reality is that he played a perfectly pleasant 30-minute folk music set, of which his “Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag” was but one part of. 

You can literally hear the audience’s delight as they realize what they’re spelling after the “U” 

After Country Joe’s set, Chip Monck is back at it

“We could use your help if you’re going to be so fucking determined; come and work with us then, instead of just… taking.”

If all you know about Carlos Santana involves Rob Thomas, their standout set is even more incendiary than the (highly edited, as per Zax -- the original is 8:06, here 13:03) “Soul Sacrifice” from the original. It’s disc 11, not even ⅓ of the box, and the number of quality performances far exceeds expectations

the keith hartley band’s 17:57 “Halfbreed Medley” on disc 13 is an example of something - it’s easy to write these things off but given what they were, they are all executed surprisingly well. sure, 17:57 would seem overindulgent now, but

let’s remember the Grateful Dead played a FORTY MINUTE “Turn On Your Love Light”

Disc 14: Puppet theater will be going on at the Hog Farm at 6:15

The Incredible String Band -- described in the liner notes as “psychedelic acoustic favorites of the UK counterculture--sound like if the Stonehenge scene in Spinal Tap was delivered seriously. The liner notes note that they “never built an American audience” and yet, they chose to perform all new material--”I just want to acknowledge all of the requests that are being shouted, thank you very much, we thought it would be nice to do all new songs today, which haven’t been recorded yet, because it’s nice for us to play them, and we hope you don’t mind that. Thank you for asking for the old ones!”

“People are saying that some of the acid is poison. it’s not poison, it’s just bad acid, it’s manufactured poorly. …And if you feel like experimenting, only take half a tab”

2:20 / track 7 disc 16 - Chip finally loses his shit at the guy in the towers; TK chimes in “get down the tower, we don’t want you to kill yourself”

It takes Chip until 8:30 on Saturday night before he finally loses his shit

track 9: “if your determination was the same as your selfishness, we’d be able to have gatherings like this every week” - track 2:40

String Band’s making a charter flight, we’d like to get them there on time, though it’s gonna be a bitch

Disc 17:

1:40: There are more announcements looking for the electrician--the hospital needs helicopter lights for a flyout, advising then there is a large, vocal group shout from the audience.

“I’m sorry, I can’t hear you man”

“As soon as I find out, we will advise you whether the Mets won or lost.”

From a pitch I tried to work out about the above exchange:

The Mets shut out San Diego, with a final score of 2-0. Tom Seaver was the winning pitcher, 

At a mid-August point in the season, the daily progress of the Mets was of great interest, as the Mets were contenders, coming up second in the standings against the Cubs. Chicago had a 9.5 game lead on August 14, which they lost to the Mets over the next two weeks. The Mets won the division by eight, one of the biggest pennant race collapses in history.

If there are any other bulletins like that that are important to you, please let us know, Chip states, dripping sarcasm.

3:40 - you hear a lot of stage technicians talking to each other which is really only audible with headphones

6:13: they’re going to cut the fence down 

(this is the fence that was in front of the stage; they did not end up cutting it down)

Disc 23: the abbie hoffman incident is recreated to provide a STEREO EXPERIENCE of Pete throwing Abbie Hoffman off the stage 

one disc is literally the grateful dead playing one song. just one. a 40+ minute version of “turn on your lovelight.” which is 1) not the longest version of this song they have played 2) kind of a ballsy move to do this in front of half a million people 3) why punk rock happened

Disc 20:

2:50: Will the young lady who is carrying a silver Scandinavian Air Service bag, flight bag, please take a look in your silver Scandinavian Air Service flight bag. You’re carrying Janis’ wah-wah pedals and we’ve got the keys to your house. So we’ll trade!

disc 21: Janis is the largest cheer so far.

“how are you out there? are you okay? you’re not - you’re staying stoned, you’ve got enough water and a place to sleep and everything? what does that mean?”

IT IS THREE O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING! “Sly, then the Who, then the Airplane”

HOW DID THEY DO THIS AT THREE O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING????

the medley - it’s 22 minutes

the album edits it into a 13 minute chunk but it’s not that they made it shorter, they just edited out different parts of each of the three songs - 2 minutes of Dance to the Music, 7 minutes of music lover, 4 of I want to take you higher. And it’s a neat trick, and for many listeners, was early exposure to - but it’s doing the act a grave disservice. I can understand the Dead opting out of the album just because there would be no way to compress the thing that the Dead do, and still convey some semblance of tactile emotion.

you have to respect Sly Stone for expecting people to throw the peace sign in the air and sympathize that some people might feel too subconscious to do this in the middle of the night… way up on the hill

TWO ENCORES FOR SLY

“Could we take this opportunity to welcome this new day with you, with our greatest appreciation,” says Chip Monck. It is now just after 6am on Sunday morning, and after that brief moment of contemplation, with the next breath he asks the men on the follow spot towers to please come down.

it is actually refreshing to learn that Woodstock had occasional problems

DISC 26: By the time the Grease Band commences the introduction to “Rockhouse,” opening Joe Cocker’s set at 2pm Sunday, it is as bright and jarring as though I had been up for 22 hours, and I would have gone back to my tent if I was not there already.

10 minutes of rain might be viewed as a brave and bold inclusion, but the actual rainstorm track -- credited to “John Morris, Barry Melton (Country Joe & the Fish), Audience & Rainstorm” -- the same attention that was paid to the musical mix is also lavished upon this 10 minute real world soundscape. You hear the concern in John Morris’ voice as he urges the audience to move away from the towers, tells stagehands to get off the stage. You can hear the raindrops fall, and the wind blow through the mic screen. There are a couple of rain chants, but it’s not the artificially sweetened experience of the movie or the album.

DISC 29: Chip is still trying to get the guys off of the lighting towers.

DISC 32: “It’s really annoying to have to constantly make this announcement” track 1

“After a short intermission, and another scaffolding announcement, we’ll continue” :26 track 12

DISC 35: Holy incronguity to find out that Sha Na Na went on at 7:30 on Monday morning, between the Butterfield Blues Band and Jimi Hendrix. 

track 13: 7:35 - “It’s been a long one, but it’s been outstanding” - Chip, who is still trying to get the guys down from the lighting towers, this time because the mud they are rooted in has questionable stability

‘WHAT ABOUT HENDRIX,’ yells a jamoke in the audience

The remaining stragglers who hung around to the bitter end because they were there or because why not or because Hendrix respond with more enthusiasm than one would expect after three days of rain and mud and poorly manufactured acid and macrobiotic food. 

DISC 36: “1:40 - “JIMI, ARE YOU HIGH?’ 

DISC 38:

track 15, where we hear one of the first “You wouldn’t know them, they’re from Australia”: 2:35

“For the first time really ever, I didn’t dig the music, honestly. I never listened, once. I contemplated my life’s future, the future of my own personal life. I think I’m going to turn naturalist.”

“If you’d seen the Who, you’d know what I mean. They came on, like, at 4 o’clock in the morning, and they came out and played their new album that they must have played 100 times by now in 100 different places. and they did the exact same thing, Peter Townshend did the exact same moves, Roger Daltrey did the exact same moves, they’ve done for a year and a half, two years. And they weren’t giving anybody anything new. They weren’t contributing anything to music, man. They weren’t making anything. At all. you dig? They weren’t, man. They just weren’t.”  

(I’m really sorry I didn’t have enough word count to talk about the random field recordings on disc 38, they were amazing)

track 29: 15 minutes before show time on friday, one of the first announcements: All you people climbing up that scaffolding, please come down immediately, that’s extremely dangerous. This is a matter of life and death. Dig it. 

DO YOU KNOW WHO DIDN’T CLIMB THE FUCKING SCAFFOLDING? WOMEN

Part 2 of my Woodstock coverage in two weeks, on the actual 50th Anniversary.

Peace out.

[newsletter] The Ballad of Low Cut Connie

Some people want to die so they can be free.

“Get to where you need to be,” invokes Adam Weiner near the start of most shows he performs. Weiner is the lead singer / majordomo / band leader of the group known as Low Cut Connie, who performed a free show last Thursday in Battery Park, in a bucolic, park setting that made me murmur, “If I told them once, I told them a thousand times, Spinal Tap first, puppet show second,” as soon as I walked onto the grounds. The stage was backed up against the Hudson River with views of Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, the Staten Island Ferries coming and going, and just to the north, Jersey City. “Backstage” was two white tents stageside, open to the water. The result was that, minutes before showtime, the entire band walked out dressed and ready: “The entire band has to pee,” Weiner told me in greeting, “And the only bathroom is… over there,” pointing towards the park’s entrance structure. 

I wanted to respond with We hope you enjoy our new direction, but thought better of it.

It started to rain lightly at about 6:45, and the band came onstage shortly after that, the thought being that the show might have to be cut short for inclement weather. Weiner steps to the front, and immediately starts gesturing at the crowd to move closer. About a dozen and a half folks oblige, but that’s not enough for Adam. He keeps gesturing, making individual eye contact, waving, come closer, come closer, and then that admonishment: Get to where you need to be. I’ve always interpreted that line literally -- find where you need to be in the crowd to be able to experience the performance that’s about to follow -- but in a week where the President of the United States had gone full-on Goebbels (amongst everything else that is going wrong, including the insane heat, which miraculously disappeared for these few hours), and I took it as more of a mental challenge--get to where I need to be to be able to experience this performance. 

Weiner is full on, always full on, whether it’s a showcase or New Year’s Eve or crammed onto the stage at a dive bar somewhere out in these United States. His battle gear of choice is always the same, a uniform of tuxedo pants, suspenders over a white ribbed tank top, and some delightful garish baseball jacket, gold lame threads and bold patterns, with a giant gold necklace--of late, a lion’s head. It’s an outfit that has its roots deep in rnb, 70’s and 80’s Elton John, and the Borscht Belt; when the band appeared on Seth Myers’ show last year, the jacket Adam had made for the appearance featured gold Stars of David. I think of this now, again, after this week, and here, with the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island just over Weiner’s shoulder. 

There is a lot going on up there, and we have barely gotten started.

I came slowly to Low Cut Connie. I really, really, really, hated the name, and I couldn’t completely connect with what was going on until the release of 2017’s Dirty Pictures Part I. it was a deeply soulful and polished effort, and not “polished” in a way that means forced or contrived or airless, but rather, great songs being executed and presented in the way they deserved to be. I still hate the name, but the music and the live show are tremendous. Dirty Pictures Part II, out later that year, is (to my mind), even better than the first volume, “Beverly” sounding like a song you’ve been listening to forever. There are many of those haunting familiarities scattered through the songs, not derivative but recontextualized and reimagined. “All These Kids Are Way Too High” should not work--the title does! not! scan!--and yet it’s irresistible.  

The last time I saw Weiner onstage was April when I was in Seattle for the Pop Music Studies Conference, and they happened to be in town just up the road at my dearly beloved Sunset Tavern, which is not the same Sunset where I used to see the Supersuckers or Mudhoney jammed onto a tiny stage shoved up against the middle of the side wall. But it was still the hot, sweaty Sunset I remembered, and old, weird Seattle showed up, selling out two nights in a row. Like most Connie crowds, there were young and old and lots of women and grizzled biker types in denim jackets, and everyone, everyone, dances. Seattle is a tough crowd to get a reaction from, and the “Seattle freeze” has flummoxed many a touring musician. There’s just no chance at a Low Cut Connie show; Weiner chips away, note by note, song by song, gesture by gesture. It is astoundingly hard work. 

Tonight, here in this New York City Parks Department setting, Weiner sees everything. He makes eye contact. He keeps pulling people forward, with words, with gestures, with movement. He stalks the stage. He dances on the piano bench. He plays the piano in his trademark gesture, standing on the bench and lifting one foot behind him, as he plays (and he actually does play). He shakes his ass. He directs his band, a quartet of competent musicians, three of which are brand new to me from the last time I saw him in April. Low Cut Connie is less a band in the way we think of bands, that comradeship of lost boys and girls kicking against the pricks, but rather Weiner and whoever he drafts into service, based on availability or need. When the band played the Van Morrison tribute in March, where Weiner absolutely slayed “Here Comes The Night,” the delightful Cat Popper came along on bass because the current bass player couldn’t make it. 

There’s this rockist concept of “a Band” that is still not outdated, fans wedded to a particular lineup or having an affinity for the bass player or the drummer or the lead guitarist. That dynamic still persists in the world, because usually it’s that camaraderie that is the special sauce that transforms a group of musicians from a pleasant listening experience to that emotional maelstrom that is so addicting. There’s a quote from Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography that made me shriek out loud the first time I read it, heavy underline and highlighted, that makes me think of Weiner’s skill as a band leader: 

People always asked me how the band played like it did night after night, almost murderously consistent, NEVER stagnant and always full balls to the wall. There are two answers. One is that they loved and respected their jobs, one another, their leader, and the audience. The other is… because I MADE them. Do not underestimate the second answer.

(emphasis mine)

A Connie gig is a tough show, it is a commitment, it is hot, it is physical. It is not going to be the right situation for a lot of people. And you would think that the work of finding people and working with people would present an inconsistent scenario that would be impossible to control. What I realized on Thursday is that it doesn’t matter who’s onstage with Weiner (although the current musicians are delightful, especially backing singer-cum-fiddle-cum-rhythm guitarist Abigail Dempsey, whose voice melds wonderfully with Weiner’s) because he is pulling it all together with sheer force of will, or belief, or magical thinking, or something I haven’t figured out quite yet. (Full disclosure here that I am working on some concept of a larger writing project around Adam, the shape of which is still to be determined, and the reason for that is everything I’ve just explained.)

And then, of course, there is the rest of the show, the music, the performance. 20 songs start to finish, including an encore that possibly broke through whatever curfew the puppet show park had in place. There is a structure to Connie sets, you can see Weiner’s thought process in action as he slots songs together, when he works in the Prince cover (“Controversy,” almost always white-hot, and an act of resistance in these modern times), when he decides to pull throw in the better known songs, (“Boozophelia,” which made it onto President Obama’s summer playlist back in 2014), when to add a new song from an upcoming album, which had shades of Leon Russell (a friend at the show leaned over and said, Tumbleweed Junction, which is the same thing, really). It was the same show that you’d see them do at the Bowery Ballroom or the TLA or the 9:30 Club, which should always be how it goes, and yet we know that sometimes--oftentimes--it does not. 

It isn’t less of a show because a bunch of tourists wander through with their GoPro and other people are clearly there because they heard loud sounds and came walking in to see what was up. I watched one tourist come up front with her camera for half a song, before tucking it away and staying almost until the end. Then there were the finance bros, all button-down shirts and chinos, the one guy who was clearly the instigator and got there early, while his pals showed up after clocking out wherever. They crept forward ever so cautiously and were visibly bummed that Weiner’s sorties into the audience did not come their way, and stayed until the last note. There were couples boogieing with various levels of rhythm, parents who knew all the words balancing their kids on their shoulders, joyful young women dancing by themselves. Weiner steals a Cubs hat off of someone’s head before returning it as he heads back to the stage.

It is gorgeous, it is life-affirming, it is an absolute delight. It is a no-irony zone, too; Weiner means it. He has to mean it, because it would be a lot easier to stop doing this thing, or do it differently, or give it less of everything. I am reminded last summer’s Clash tribute put together by Jesse Malin. It was a very, very long night--the running joke is that it was longer than Sandinista--and towards the end of it I had dropped back to the bar to get some water and find a wall to lean against. The familiar chords of “Train In Vain” came out of the PA as the performer slated to sing this particular song walked out. I was in the back and didn’t have my glasses on, so I couldn’t really see, but I was struck how this guy who came in on the very end of the night was attacking the song like he wrote it. And then, a split second later, I realized it was Adam Weiner, and thought, “Oh. Of course.” I told Adam this story later, and his response was, “That’s the job.” 

Low Cut Connie should be a bigger band at this point, larger, more successful, better opportunities, more of an audience. I don’t quite understand why they aren’t, which is why I am following along so closely, because there’s a story that needs to be told, and I want to be the one who gets to do the job. My friend Marisa, who is new to Connie fandom, but is one of the biggest pure music fans I know, told me breathlessly after the show last Thursday that she feels like she needs to see them as much as she can now before they explode. I hope she is right on the money.

p.s. if you’ve read this far, bonus Obama / Prince / Connie discussion well worth your click

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